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Wintering out on kale, some questions...

An Interested Spectator

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As a total non farmer, but someone who is very interested in the subject, I have been reading a number of articles on out wintering cattle on kale.

The principle, for anyone who is not aware, is to bale and wrap a field of silage, leaving the bales in lines across the field, and then plant kale around them. Then, rather then housing stock during winter, they are strip fed the kale with the silage given as roughage.

There are two choices with planting the kale. First is to plant into a prepared seed bed (you get more kale per acre) or direct drill into the grass sward (the ground stands up better to the actions of the animals on it).

Which leads to my first question....

Assuming that any ground that is being used for this is going to be fairly light and free draining could you direct drill grass back in after the kale, and therefore have a wholly direct drill establishment policy, or is the reality that you are going to have to reach for the plough at some point ?

The second question...........

I live on the edge of the Somerset levels, and most of the ground is simply too wet for the above. But where it is operated does anyone know if the system has survived this winter given the whole country has had more than the average snow fall all ready, and is now getting pretty wet ?

Cheers in advance


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We have only used kale for out wintering once in the time I worked on the farm, it caused nitrate poisoning in some of the stores we had on it, 2 died because of it, it also ties up a field for a wwhole year so we don't bother with it now. Instead we grow either stubble turnips or a forage rape/kale hybrid that we can sow behind a crop of winter or spring barley, we bale the straw up and clear the bales to the edge of the field at 9m spacings, the field is then cultivated and drilled by early August allowing the crop to be forward enough for us to start grazing in November moving the fence forward one bale every day top and bottom.

We also grow grazing rye by ploughing and drilling to allow for early grazing post calving in early spring giving the grass time to get ahead.

We either plough for maize behind it, plough for sugarbeet or spring barley or we have subsoiled and cultivated the field before bedforming for potatoes in the past, our latest venture is also to rent one of the fields out for carrots meaning we don't have to do a thing to it after the cows are off. The fields to get panned down fairly tight, especially if it was wet while the cows were on it, obviously if the weather has been kind the field is left in much better condition. We always try and pick our lighter fields though for the task, there's one or two we would never attempt to graze the cattle on over winter. It does save us a fortune in feed though, we did host an open day a couple of years back about it that featured in the Farmers Weekly


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18 tonne of dry mater per ha is posible on early sown kale.Drilling at 3kg/ha early into shallow worked soil so gets away faster with 100kg/ha of urea every 6 weeks will grow a wack of feed then ploughing the land as the cows move across the paddock  eg plough 2 ha a week will help keep the land from going sour.

In NZL you make more $$ from kale than barley!

You can do it with no tillage at all but you need to stand the cows off somewere when it's to wet.


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When my Father and I were milking cows, which we did for nearly 40 years, we used to till a field of kale each year. Variety was either Marrowstem or Thousandhead. The former is a very bulky variety with lots of big leaf and thick stem, can grow up to the thickness of a big mans fore-arm, the latter being a more slender stem of about an inch or so thickness with smaller fairly dense leaves in a 'crown' at the top of the plant and grows taller. We favoured the Marrowstem as there was more feed value in both the stem and leaf but you had to till it earlier, by the end of March, for it to mature to start feeding it in August and you really had to finish it by the second week in the following April otherwise the stem would become 'woody' and it would start to run up to flower, no good feeding kale in flower as it makes cattle abort, the flower contains aestrogens which causes this. We broadcast the seed mixed with the fertaliser in the spinner, this way you could deliver the correct seeding rate together with the fertaliser at a rate of 4lb of seed per acre in 3cwt per acre of fertaliser and then just cover the seed with the small spiked side of the chain harrows into the seedbed the same as you would grass seed. Later when the plants were in their third true leaf stage we would spray with 'Semeron' which prevented weed growth but would not kill Shepheards Purse as this weed is the same family as the kale, a brassica. When preparing the ground we used to spread all the dung from witer housing and plough it down. Regarding feeding, we would start by cutting by hand until there was enough cleared for the cows to to stand and feed with the electric fence up to the 'face' and when they had cleared the strip, which was only a matter of an hour or so, we would bring them back into the yard on silage. You should not allow cattle to gorge themselves on kale, restrict them as it creates a lot of gas in their gut and causes bloat. Kale has high nutrition value and despite what people used to say about it, cows will milk well on it.

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much the same from me as above from  tim and gav.................they are touting this as the new best way to overwinter cattle.................hmmmmmmmmm

i have a friend who has done it very successfully for a few years, he farms a nice coastal farm which despite being only 5 miles by road from me has at least 2-3 week longer growing season at both ends of the year to me.........this makes a big difference.the neighbours to me and the farms owned and run by my landlord try it........they are further up the valley to me and its hit or miss with them on more marginal land.      my problems with it is my land all slopes to water courses thus making a potential problem with run off , as gav says the long growing season....much better to sow a hybrid faster maturing variety after a 2nd cut of silage then get back into grass the following spring. you need 2 fields or plenty of dry uncultivated hillocks for the cattle to lie on, electric fencing for rationing the amount they eat, need to go but will add more  again.bet you are sorry you asked

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oh yes and sorry Ol`s input too......i suspect tho his climate and soil are very different to ours........remember this tho quite a lot of ideas look great on paper but when the practicalities come into play its often a different matter.

you still need sheds for the cattle once the kales finished,the wet winters we tend to get here mean the poaching is a bigger issue and you certainly need to pick your fields.

not cheap to grow , mostly in our area after some sort of cultivating rather than just direct drilling which again due to our weather seems to be very hit and miss

the experts  tout it as full out wintering, but that I question and prefer to say defferred wintering allowing you to leave cattle outside for longer but unless you have lots of it its unlikely to last the full winter so you`d still be looking at providing some in wintering accomodation for them.

it needs an expensive kale balancer mineral , well it does with us at least,and as Gav says , nitrate poisoning could be an issue.

you really wouldnt want calves being born in the mess  so you need to pick which stock to eat it and its probably best suited to dry cows and or yearlings or stores

if you count the benefits of reseeding afterwards then this probably does make it financially more attractive

the drains here take a pounding too , we have lots of 2 inch tiles ,these tend not to be very deep

very much horses for courses, I may have said all this in my own topic

they dont usually plough after the kales done,discing, harrowing etc,you wouldnt drill direct into the poached ground with us

and yes ive seen my mates fields this winter, the kale is supposed to be winter hardy and has stood up remarkably well  in the cold so far.his hybrid is good too.the stubble turnip rape mix he had for sheep feeding is done and full utilisation was not as good as youd like due to the frost .they could have eaten more now but his lambs are all away, he might put some ewes on for a bit.the ground is pretty decent too, but do remember that it has been dry with us only 55 mm in december and he wasnt using it much before the frost came in with us around the 20`s of november.

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Where in NZ are you based light land? Im just home from rakaia...

Anyway we have kale here in Ireland the last 7 years. Good ground and well drained and we always sow it the conventional way by preparing a seed bed. Take into account that the kale is used on our dairy platform inside our re-seeding policy. So the kale is constantly being moved from paddock to paddock. Also for your other question we just run over the ground in the spring time with a heavy simba disc and direct drill from there with a vanderstad. It goes well, more suited to the NZ climate I feel as our cow type is bigger and requires a higher  rise in her condition score than your jersey X. I have worked on dairy farms were it is put in very early and used as an insurance policy toward end lactation where  (like this year in August) we suffer drought and growth drops it there to use.

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I grow up in Southbridge(my dad works for "rainer" fixing roto rainers),own a house in Rakaia.I've worked 10km around Rakaia all my nz working life and now live in the Hawkes bay working/training to become a dairy farm manager as a way of getting into a farm.

For sure kale on the light land around mid canterbury with irragtion and readly avalible straw is a cheap way of wintering cattle.

A cheaper but faster way we did was after wheat burn the stubble off spin oats on the ash and work it in with a grubber and harrows then irragate it feed it off as seen in the picture then plough the paddock to get under the pugging and put it into spring wheat.


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Well Adie, you asked so are you ready.. ???;D ........I`m afraid I copied this text as it explains it better than I could.Much of this text is from articles by  J W Crowley in 1985........get your reading glasses on ...........

Nitrate poisoning is a condition which may affect ruminants consuming certain forages or water that contain an excessive amount of nitrate

Under normal conditions, nitrate ingested by ruminant livestock, like cattle, sheep and goats, is converted to ammonia and then bacterial protein in the rumen by bacteria. Nitrate is converted to nitrite faster than nitrite is converted to ammonia.  Consequently, when higher than normal amounts of nitrate are consumed, an accumulation of nitrite may occur in the rumen.  Nitrite then will be absorbed into the bloodstream and will convert hemoglobin to methemoglobin, which is unable to transport oxygen.  Thus, when an animal dies from nitrate poisoning, it is due to a lack of oxygen. The occurrence of nitrate poisoning is difficult to predict because nitrate levels can change rapidly in plants and the toxicity of nitrate varies greatly among livestock due to age, health status, and diets.  However, concern should certainly be raised when plant growth has been less than half of normal or nitrogen application more than twice recommended. Plants normally take up nitrogen from the soil in the form of nitrate, regardless of the form of nitrogen fertilizer (including manure) applied.  However little nitrate accumulates in plants, when growth is normal, because the plant stem and leaves rapidly convert nitrate to plant amino acids and protein.  Under certain conditions, however, this balance can be disrupted so that the roots will take up nitrate faster than the plant can convert the nitrate to protein.

The nitrate-to-protein cycle in a plant is dependent on three factors:

- Adequate water

- Energy from sunlight

- A temperature conducive to rapid chemical reactions.

If any one of these factors is inadequate, the root continues to absorb nitrate at the same rate while storing it unchanged in the stalk and lower parts of the leaves.  When this situation develops, nitrate accumulates. 

Nitrates may also accumulate in plants from excessive nitrogen fertilization, for example on fields where a large amount of manure have been applied.

Some plants are more likely to accumulate nitrate that others.  Crops capable of high levels of nitrate accumulation under adverse conditions include forage rape,corn, small grains, sudangrass, and sorghum.  Weeds capable of nitrate accumulation include pigweed, lambsquarter, sunflower, bindweed and many others.  Vegetables capable of accumulating large amounts of nitrate that are most frequently grazed include brassicas,sugar beets, lettuce, cabbage, potatoes and carrots. Ruminant livestock can tolerate a wide range of nitrate, depending on several factors.  Factors making nitrate less toxic include:

Ø      The animal can become conditioned to eat larger amounts of feed with high nitrate content if the increase is gradual.

Ø      Healthy animals are less likely to be adversely affected than animals in poor health.

Ø      Adequate amounts of available carbohydrates (grain) allow the animal to consume more nitrate because carbohydrates enhance the conversion process from nitrate to microbial protein.

Factors making nitrate more toxic include:

§        Rapid diet changes can trigger nitrate poisoning.

§        Parasitism or other conditions causing anemia will increase susceptibility.

§        Nitrate in more than one diet component (e.g. water and forage).

  The most dramatic nitrate toxicity problems have occurred when hungry cattle were put on corn stalks, oat straw or weedy pasture.  Under these conditions the highest nitrate feeds are fed as the total ration, and the feeding of well-balanced rations and adaptation by the animal are ignored.  Sudden change to high nitrate maize silage as the main feed can cause problems.  Milking cows and other animals receiving large amounts of grains are not as likely to have nitrate toxicity problems as dry cows, heifers and other animals because the milking cows are on a higher energy ration and because the high nitrate feedstuff is likely to be a smaller proportion of the total diet..

Grains and other concentrates are low in nitrate.  Forages (leaves and stems) will accumulate more nitrate than grains.  Because forage comprises a larger percentage of ruminants dies, high nitrate in feed is more likely to be of concern in feeding ruminants than non-ruminants.  However, nitrate from feed or water can cause problems for all animals and to humans.


Toxicity or safety of a feed containing more than normal amounts of nitrate involves many factors. These  include total daily intake of nitrate, previous adaptation of the animal to high nitrate, feeding practices, nutritional quality of the ration and general health of the animal. In addition, the nitrate level of the water may be a contributing factor. 

The following are the major factors that influence possible nitrate problems.  Preventing or changing a condition that increases the problem will help decrease or prevent the problem.

Total nitrate intake is the critical problem rather than the amount in any one feed in the ration.  For example, a dangerous level in a feed that makes up the total ration could be perfectly safe if it comprised only half the ration.  Likewise, a safe level in the feed may be a problem if the water also contains high levels of nitrate.

Suggestion - Determine nitrate in all suspicious feeds and in the water.  Limit the amount of any questionable feed.  Forages, especially corn and oat silages, green chop or pasture and weeds, are the most common sources of the problem.  Limits may need to be greater if the water also contains significant nitrate levels.

Nitrate in one dose may be very toxic while the same amount divided into several smaller doses is perfectly safe.  For example, in one study, giving a 1000 pound cow 150 grams (about 5 ounces) of nitrate (NO3) in one dose produced acute toxicity.  Spraying three times as much, or 450 grams (about one pound) of nitrate on the hay consumed in a day, did not produce acute toxicity.

Suggestion - If a feed contains questionable amounts of nitrate, divide the daily feeding into smaller feedings.  For example, feed ten pounds of silage 3 or 4 times per day rather than feeding 30 or 40 pounds at one feeding.

Nitrate is not normally accumulated in the animal because it is continually converted to other nitrogen compounds that are utilized or excreted in the urine and feces.  The ability to utilize and effectively excrete the nitrogen compounds requires adaptation by the animal.  A toxic level given to a cow that had been on a very low nitrate intake could be a safe level if the same amount had been gradually added to the ration.  If a toxic level is fed repeatedly, liver and kidney damage can occur.

Suggestion - If a feed is questionable, feed a small amount for a week; if no problem is noted the amount can be increased.  When changing to a new feed or different source of feed, it is always better to make the change gradually.

Safe utilization of nitrate requires general good nutrition and proper rumen function in cattle, sheep and goats.  Rumen micro-organisms require readily available carbohydrate, protein and minerals.  Additional vitamin A reduces the toxic effects of nitrates in poultry.

Suggestion - Feed a balanced ration.  Liberal feeding of a good grain mix insures adequate levels of energy and protein.  Minerals should be provided in the grain mixture, as well as by free choice feeding of trace mineral salt and a calcium-phosphorus supplement.  Nitrates might destroy or interfere with the conversion of carotene to vitamin A; therefore, the use of a protein source that contains vitamin A or adding a vitamin A supplement in some way is generally advised when high nitrate feeds are used.  Avoid feeding high nitrate feeds to animals that are unthrifty or sick for any reason.  Do not feed questionable forages to cows that have impaired rumen function.  Elimination of high nitrate feeds from rations for dry and recently early lactation cows is also a good practice. 

Nitrates can accumulate in plants when adverse growing conditions such as drought, hot weather, cool weather or frost slows the growth of the plants.  Cool season crops such as small grains and permanent forage grasses may accumulate nitrates in hot, dry weather while warm season crops such as corn and sorghums can accumulate nitrates when the temperatures are low or when growth has been arrested due to frost.

Suggestions - Nitrates primarily accumulate in the lower stems and leaves of corn, sorghums, small grains, grasses and weeds.  They seldom accumulate at sufficiently high concentrations to be a problem in legumes.  If the nitrates are suspected to be a problem, avoid harvesting the basal portions of the plant.  Avoid pasturing hungry animals or green feeding on drought stunted crops or weedy pastures.  Place suspect crops in the silo and allow to ferment for one to three months before feeding and then follow suggestions given previously.  Ensiling will allow conversion of nitrate to ammonia and may reduce nitrate levels by 30 to 50%.  Haymaking does not reduce the nitrate level of the forage.

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i had to bale some kale years ago ..welgar rp12/ massey 690 4x4,mowed with a pz 2 drum mower/massey 575,,never again  ,because the bales weighed almost a tonne if not more .that baler/tractor hated me after those kale bales and they bent the wrapper arm lifting them.. felt sorry for the farmer as he only had a 590 2wd 80/loader.. funny thing is he never asked us back ::)

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i have a couple of bits to add in here..........my landlord`s farms up the road, put kale in this year again, half a crop but better than last years complete failure. They have also put up buildings at another farm they have 9 miles away and sent 60 cows away inside for the winter .........what`s that saying.

one of the seed reps with us has come up with a couple of suggestions recently,he maintains this one will work fine.Sow  arable silage into the last years kale stubble with  about half rate rape kale hybrid seed included in the mix,take your cut of silage off mid july then    let the hybrid regrow and use to fatten lambs rather than heavy winter cattle unless you happen to get exceptionally good regrowth.....this 2nd year growing brassica  is really finding favour in this area,follow that with a 4 to 7 year cutting/grazing seed mix..........good soil break up with no club rooot build up.

a second he has when you grow cereals anyway is to  include it in a long term rotation  of 2 cuts silage , mid july sow hybrid rape,secong year either kale or the arable silage mix,sow  spring barley followed by another  cereal crop or a full autumn grass reseed .....

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We are having to be very careful with our cropping rotation with regards to disease build up, particularly club root as with also growing oileed rape it is a real possibility. The forage rape hybrid (Swift/Redstart)/turnips are usually grown on fields we can get the cattle to easily so mostly near to the yard, the same one having just gone through a barley-turnip-spring barley-Redstart rotation it will now have a break for a couple of years before having another brassica crop on it. The oilseed rape is a new comer onto the farm due to the weed beet problem we have in the land on some fields making growing sugar beet difficult and expensive on some fields, its a big juggling act at times with knowing what to put where.

That doesn't look too bad Gav, I'm sure I've ploughed in worse. Is it the slatted boards that make it difficult?

The slatted boards actually make it easier to pull, the problem is the straw layer is up to 8 inches thick, well matted and wet leying on top of well compacted headlands from the cows jamming about on it. Even at slow forwards speeds all it takes is for the land wheel to skid instead of turn or for a skimmer to briefly ride near the surface in a dip and it starts to drag the straw up like a rake would blocking the plough in the process. I opened the plough right out to 50cm furrow widths to allow a bit more clearence which did help slightly. Before we have scraped the headlands with the muck grab but the ones on this fireld are to wet to run the teleporter and a trailer about on, its one of those fields that never dries out properly until mid summer so as its coming beet needed to be turned over now to try and get some frost onto the soil to break it up and hopefully allow it to dry slightly by mid March

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Yes gav no serious cropping done round here why he advocates these ideas I think, we certainly have no OSR or beets to contend with.the likelihood of any brassica being back in the same ground before at least 7 years is very low.I accept that he`s now suggesting it`s done but my feeling would be folks will work their way round farms where possible.there isn`t that much opportunity to reseed otherwise..we all seem to be stocked up to the hilt and need the land...........

I hadn`t reckoned on the waste from bales either of straw or the silage at all.....theres another issue to deal with.they tend not to plough  up here after the kale, its just heavy discs.

they still tend to put a trailer or a ring feeder into the field on a hard part and the cows  feed out of it but I have seen lines of bales in the fields......

Interesting we havent heard much from the Irish lads on this subject.......wondering if its too wet a bit like with us because despite I talk about this , the folks doing it are very much in the minority

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